The Effects of Extramarital Affairs on the Divorce Process (2023 Update)

Extramarital affairs create feelings of betrayal that can result in very complex, conflicted and expensive divorce proceedings. If one spouse has been unfaithful, the trust between the partners is destroyed, and this impacts every aspect of the settlement negotiations, investigations, and the court proceedings. Getting divorced is an emotional time for anyone; both partners may feel a sense of loss, depression, and anger towards one another, but add an affair into the mix and logic and rationality sometimes disappear. Spouses assume sexual exclusivity to one another and infidelity is seen as one of the most severe violations of the marriage. The realization of being cheated by a loved one creates feelings of shame, hostility, outrage, and resentment. An angry spouse, who has no trust in the other, often vents their anger and revenge during the legal process.

Cheats, Liars, and Assets

Once a spouse concludes that their partner has lied and cheated on them, expect a problematic financial investigation. Sometimes it is necessary to go back for years to look at every credit card statement, bank statement, frequent flier award and hotel award statement to piece together what happened, when the betrayal started and what marital assets have been spent on the extramarital affair. The victim imagines that there have been other affairs, that large sums of money have been hidden, and the level of suspicion knows no bounds. Settlement negotiations, which should have focused on splitting assets and allocating parenting time, may now be focused on revenge and making the divorce as protracted and painful as possible.

The No-Fault State

Colorado is a no-fault state for divorce, meaning that anyone can divorce for any reason at all. An extramarital affair should not have an effect on how assets are divided. That being said, affairs still have a significant impact on the attorney fees and the ability to settle the case amicably and constructively.

Planned Emotional Withdrawal versus the Shock Factor

The unfaithful spouse has usually spent a great deal of time separating emotionally and planning for an eventual divorce. The other spouse is frequently oblivious to what is happening, and news of the affair takes them entirely off guard, as though attacked by an unseen enemy. The victim often feels very disadvantaged in the divorce process, which prolongs the resolution.

What about the Children?

More complications arise because the faithful spouse has to deal with the emotional grief of an affair, and must also cope with the impact of a divorce on their children. The spouses struggle with what to tell the children about the reason for the divorce. Frequently, the spouse who is caught up in the exhilaration of the new relationship loses their good judgment and feels that their children need to meet and accept this new person in their lives. This behavior creates serious problems in many cases for the other spouse and the children, who are grieving and just don’t share the excitement and enthusiasm for the new relationship.

No matter how reasonable your spouse is typically, or how much you want to settle your divorce quickly and in the best interests of your children, flaunting an affair will anger your spouse beyond rationality and will not be helpful. The effects of angry spouse’s feelings are felt in skyrocketing legal fees. Sometimes the legal fees alone will be used as a means to punish the other spouse for their infidelity. Spouses who feel betrayed will on occasion go on spending sprees that would never have been contemplated during the marriage, simply to feel better and to “get even.” Most divorces don’t happen only because of infidelity, but rather due to a group of factors such as lack of communication, financial issues, general disagreements and loss of attraction to one another.

When the Affair is out in the Open

The key to an amicable divorce is discretion, good judgment, and fairness. Remember that your spouse is suffering from the divorce and flaunting a paramour will complicate your divorce and turn it into a battleground.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do provide adequate family support. This is not a time to cut off reasonable funding, as this simply makes spouses feel angrier and victimized
  • Do try to maintain the best possible relationship with the children. Give them one on one time and realize that they may not appreciate spending all their time with you in the presence of a significant other.
  • Do not introduce your new crush to the children until the divorce is finalized if at all possible. This shows respect for your partner and your children and will ease the transition and hurt feelings.
  • Do not use marital assets to fund your new relationship. This will create very angry feelings. It is not unusual to find significant purchases of jewelry, spa visits, travel, etc. on the credit card statements of the unfaithful spouse. These discoveries create havoc in the legal process and any attempts to settle the case.

Try to end a bad marriage with the dignity it deserves before launching into the next relationship. Remember that the thrills and the passion of the illicit affair do not usually continue once the affair is out in the open and the reality of paying spousal support, supporting two families and adapting to parenting stepchildren can be a very challenging experience. If you find yourself involved in an extramarital affair, think very carefully before you set off a nuclear explosion with your announcement, which will certainly have adverse consequences in any divorce process.

Suzanne Griffiths is the Managing Shareholder, CEO, and co-founder of Griffiths Law PC. She has been recognized by the Best Lawyers in America© since 2019 for family law and has been selected to Colorado Superlawyers since 2005. She is also recognized in 5280 magazines for Top Lawyer in Family Law in Denver since 2016.